Album reviews

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy – ‘Evenings at the Village Gate’ (rec. 1961)

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy – Evenings at the Village Gate

(Impulse! 00602455514189. Album Review by Patrick Hadfield)

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Another “new” album by John Coltrane, this recording was rediscovered in the New York Public Library, where it had been deposited in the late 1960s or early 70s. The recordings were made over two nights during a summer season in 1961 by the club’s sound engineer, Rich Alderson, with a single microphone suspended over the stage. Alderson provides some details in an essay accompanying the CD: he hadn’t intended to record the music for posterity; rather, he wanted to know what the sound was like.

The single microphone means the music is in mono, and as with many bootleg recordings, some instruments are recorded better than others. The contributions by Coltrane and multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy are clear, as is Elvin Jones‘ drumming, but McCoy Tyner‘s piano and Reggie Workman and Art Davis‘ basses can be indistinct, especially when other instruments are soloing.

This is Coltrane in a period of transition: he’d had significant success earlier in the year with his My Favourite Things album, and he’d experimented with a larger ensemble on the yet-to-be released Africa/Brass. Also, his “classic quartet” had yet to coalesce.

The recording captures the excitement of the band live, particularly on the in-concert staples, “My Favourite Things”, “Impressions” and “Greensleeves”. Compared to “My Favourite Things”, the less familiar “When the Lights Are Low” seems almost ordinary, but it contains some beautiful playing, including a superlative solo by Tyner.

Dolphy consistently pushes boundaries – indeed, he sounds more adventurous than Coltrane much of the time – although on the particularly fast “Impressions”, Coltrane’s soprano reaches new highs, its repetitiveness being almost hypnotic.

At over twenty minutes, “Africa” is the longest piece and features an extended bass section, Davis soloing while Workman maintains the groove. It also includes the album’s only drum solo, although the sheer physicality of Jones’ drumming generally pushes the music along and the band re-entering after his solo provides its most exciting point.

There are many live recordings of John Coltrane. The one I return to most is Afro Blue Impressions – probably because it was the first one I heard. Evenings at the Village Gate holds its own against that, and against the Complete Village Vanguard Sessions from the same year. So, while this might not be the first Coltrane live recording one will turn to, should you feel the need for another version of “Impressions”, “My Favourite Things” and “Greensleeves”, it’s essential.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. He is on Mastodon.

LINK: Buy Evenings at the Village Gate

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